Walker: Campaign donation bills not on his radar

Gov. Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that he’s not pushing for Republican-sponsored bills loosening campaign donation and spending regulations that are opposed by a variety of government watchdog groups and a major private-sector union.

Walker’s comments cast doubt on whether the bills, which have been progressing quickly in the Senate, have enough support to pass and be signed into law before the legislative session ends later this month. It’s also unclear how Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos feels about the measures, which must pass his chamber. His spokeswoman said Vos was reviewing the proposals.

One bill would allow lobbyists to deliver checks from political donors directly to lawmakers and other elected officials throughout the year, including when the Legislature is in session.

Current law doesn’t allow lobbyists to make campaign contributions, either from themselves or on behalf of other donors, until after June 1 of an election year in which a candidate is running. The bill also would allow lobbyists to personally give campaign contributions starting on April 15 in election years. That is the day candidates can begin circulating petitions to get on the ballot.

“I have not gotten engaged in that,” Walker said when asked about the lobbying bill following a speech. “It’s not something I’m pushing.”

Attorney Mike Wittenwyler, who works extensively on campaign finance law with a variety of independent groups and candidates, supports the change. He said it would help small operations that have one person doing multiple jobs, including lobbying. They can’t discuss political donations until after June 1, while larger operations, with separate people who lobby and coordinate contributions, can, he said.

A variety of groups, including the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, Common Cause of Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters, opposed both the lobbying bill and one affecting disclosure of campaign spending.

“Is there a single Wisconsin citizen outside of the Capitol who has ever said we need more campaign contributions from lobbyists in our elections?” Common Cause director Jay Heck said in an email urging opposition to the bills.

The campaign spending bill would put into law a rule in place for 13 years that exempts political groups behind issue ads from disclosing their donors. Supporters, including Wittenwyler and a representative of the state chamber of commerce, said the change merely puts into law existing rules that have been in place for 13 years. But opponents said enshrining the rule into law will make it easier for those groups to avoid disclosing spending.

Under the current rule, disclosure is required when ads explicitly urge voters to support or oppose a candidate. However, disclosure is not required for ads that do not specifically tell people to vote for or against the targeted person.

Other states are looking at ways to have more disclosure, not less, Heck said.

“The end result would be that Wisconsinites will have no idea who is behind almost all of the money from outside special interest groups seeking to influence their vote in elections in Wisconsin,” Heck said.

Walker said the campaign spending disclosure was “not something that’s really on my radar.”

Despite Walker’s hesitance, the bills appear to have strong support among Senate Republicans. Sen. Mary Lazich, chairwoman of the Elections Committee, introduced the bills along with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

The bills were introduced on Monday and quickly scheduled for a hearing Wednesday.

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